Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Toyota Struggling to Change Opinions

The Toyota logo is displayed on the grill of brand new Toyota RAV4s on the sales lot at City Toyota in Daly City, California.
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Today in China, Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized to the Chinese for the quality problems that lead to the company recalling more than 9 million vehicles worldwide.

Sure, the vast majority of those are in the U.S., but there are also some on the road in China and with that country now being the largest auto market in the world Mr. Toyoda needed to pay a personal visit to that country.

I'm not sure how the Chinese are reacting to the Toyota crisis, but here in the U.S. the latest survey shows a large percentage is still struggling with Toyota and how it has handled this crisis.

Need proof?

I asked Kelley Blue Book to run an informal survey on its Web site.

The question: With the Congressional hearings about Toyota's recalls and Akio Toyoda's public apology, how has this changed your opinion about Toyota?

The results:

  • Improved: 10%
  • No Change: 43%
  • Worsened: 47%

Granted, this was not a scientific survey, but the results cannot be encouraging for Toyota executives. There was a hope among many that once the House hearings wrapped up the company would be able to start improving its reputation.

That may still happen, but it won't happen overnight.

The biggest issue, which was exposed during the hearings, is a sense Toyota is not entirely sure what's behind the cases of unintended acceleration. I here it on a regular bases from people who will stop me and ask me about Toyota's troubles. They usually say something along the lines of, "What's the deal? Why haven't these guys nailed down the problem?"

When I tell them Toyota believes the vast majority of the cases it has studied are tied into loose floor mats or a sticking gas pedal, the reaction is usually one of skepticism. And this includes a number of friends and acquaintances who are die-hard Toyota fans that have had many Toyota cars, trucks or minivans.

This is the real challenge for Toyota. Winning over the public. Convincing them they have completely found the problem in their vehicles.


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